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About Essie and the Bielski Partisans

Esia “Essie” Shor was just 16 when the Nazis invaded her town, Novogrudek (then a part of Poland, now in Belarus)‚ and killed 4000 Jews on a single day, including her mother and all her brothers and sisters. The 700 who remained, including Essie and her father, were herded into prison-like conditions in the ghetto the Nazis established. But Essie escaped at night through a hole in the fence, and became one of the first 25 Jews to join her cousins, the Bielski Brothers, in an encampment that would eventually save 1200 Jews (including her father, who followed her later). She spent two years living in the forest camp, was one of only two girls to go on armed missions, worked side by side with Jewish and non-Jewish fighters, and was an active part of this unusual community.

After the war, she married, immigrated to the United States, and worked in publishing and as a teacher. Now in her eighties, she lives in New York City.

Her book tells the story of those two years, including:

  • The terrible Nazi selection process, and the massacre that followed
  • Escaping with the aid of the family she worked for as a slave‚ and from a former teacher she found in a chance encounter in a field
  • Being coerced to accompany a group of drunken and dangerous Russian partisans on a mission‚ and then making her way back on foot after they abandoned her
  • The dramatic rescue of her cousin’s daughter from the family that had sheltered her during the war but refused to give her back when the war was over

Suggested Interview Questions for Essie

What was your life like before the war?

You turned down your first chance to leave the ghetto‚ why?

How well had you known the Bielski Brothers before the war?

What was the partisan camp like when you joined it?

It was very small then. What was it like later, when it had gotten so much bigger?

Almost all the fighters were men. How did you become a fighter?

What was the mission you were most proud of?

What was your life like after the war?

Why did you come to America, and what did you do here?

How did the book come about?

Where can people get your book?

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